Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Award-Winning Author Judith Marshall. She is the author of Women's Fiction novels.
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Judith Marshall is a third generation native Californian, born in St. Helena, California. Her lifelong dream of writing fiction was realized with the completion of "Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever," winner of the Jack London Prize for fiction awarded by the California Writers Club. The book has been optioned for the big screen.
Ms. Marshall is an active member of the California Writers Club, The Women's National Book Association, and a regular participant in writing classes and workshops.
She continues to hone her craft and has just completed her second novel, "Staying Afloat," the story of a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother who morphs into a sex-starved adulteress.
SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author
First things first. Let’s start with what’s next. Rumor has it that you have just completed another book called Staying Afloat. Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?
Yes, that’s correct, however, my producer wants to wait to publish this one until the film version of my debut novel, Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever, is released. Staying Afloat is the story of a dedicated wife and mother who morphs into a sex-starved adulteress.
Since you started before the social media buzz, what impact has social media relationships had on your writing and marketing? How much has it changed your book launch process?
The biggest benefit I’ve found from social media is networking with other authors, sharing marketing tips and resources and supporting each other. I can’t say it’s directly helped my sales.
Do you do book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?
Yes, I do all of the above. In addition to writing fiction, I write a regular column for my local newspaper entitled Fashion Over Fifty. My byline includes the name of my novel. As the result, I’ve received several offers to speak to local women’s organizations about both fashion and my book. I never fail to sell books.
You have YouTube interview about your first novel. (See link below.) Do you know how much impact they have had on your book’s success? Tell us about the process that you used to create your trailers?
I actually have three video interviews about Husbands. The first was as the result of my initial press release. http://youtu.be/V_OxODohVxM
I was contacted by the producer of NBC’s Arizona Midday and asked if I’d appear on their show. The second interview was done on my visit to Sydney, Australia for an author site there and the third interview was done for Talk Story TV. I don’t have a book trailer.
Besides the California Writers Club, what other writer support groups do you belong too? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?
I couldn’t have completed my debut novel without the help of my critique group, four feisty women who write in various genres. We were together for five years. I dedicated my book to them.
Between your book writing, blogging, marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do your sort of play it by ear?
In addition to writing, I have a human resources consulting practice which takes precedence. That said, I spend one to two hours doing book marketing every morning. I’ve begun a third novel, entitled Bitter Acres, but I only write when I feel inspired.
Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, your marketing and the relationship with your readers and fans?
I published an ebook at the same time as my print book and I’ve been surprised to find that ebooks regularly sell much better.
What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?
I’ve found the best reason to give a book away is for a reviewer. I participated in a Goodreads giveaway contest where I gave two ebooks to readers and asks them to post reviews; neither recipient did.
You have a great blog. You provide a lot of useful information to other writers. What is your primary goal in writing your posts?
My primary goal is to both market and help other authors.
What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews or no you rely on your reading audience to supply them?
I’ve received both, but I think the best reviews come from people who actually have bought and read your book. I’m happy to say that Husbands has received over sixty 5-star reviews on Amazon.
Author's Book List
Husbands May Come and Go but Friends Are Forever
The story takes place in Northern California, in the spring of 2000, when the dot-com boom was at its peak. Elizabeth Reilly-Hayden is a successful executive in her late fifties and a divorced mother of two. Emotionally armored and living alone, she wants only to maintain the status quo: her long-term significant other, her job, and her trusted friends—five feisty women whose high school friendship has carried them through multiple marriages, dramatic divorces, and maddening menopause. Yet in a matter of days, the three anchors that have kept her moored are ripped away. The group of lifelong pals gathers at Lake Tahoe to attend to the funeral arrangements of their beloved friend and tries to unravel the mystery of her death. Through their shared tragedy, Elizabeth learns how disappointment and grief can bloom into healing and hope.
Excerpt: Chapter One
March 7, 2000
Morning sunlight sliced through the dark canopy of clouds, but the rain continued to pummel the pavement, and I was on a tear. Stacks of manila envelopes, stamped Confidential in blood-red ink, covered every surface in my office. My company had recently completed a major acquisition, and as Vice President of Human Resources, my job was to prepare separation packages for the 113 employees targeted to be laid off.
My black suit jacket hung over the back of a chair. I had shed my pumps so I could move about more quickly. Company dress code was casual. But that day my attire looked as if I were going to a funeral.
I was sealing the last envelope when I heard a knock. I slipped on my shoes and went to the door, a bloom of dread in my stomach. Over the next three hours, I would be meeting with each manager whose department was affected by the downsizing. In my mind, I could hear my best friend, Karen, saying, “Downsizing is just a nice way of saying you’re firing people.”
“Am I late?” Kim Webster asked, cheeks flushed and panting. I glanced at my watch. 9:05.
“Not at all,” I said. “Please come in.”
Kim had been with Tekflex longer than anyone I knew. A former Accounts Payable Clerk, she had started right out of high school and worked her way up to Director of Accounting, responsible for a staff of twenty-three (seventeen after tomorrow).
“Coffee?” I signaled toward the pot.
“No, thanks. I’ve had my limit for today.”
I could tell by the way Kim was fidgeting that she wanted me to get to the point. I sat down behind my desk. Kim sat across from me.
“We’ve chosen tomorrow to do the layoffs.”
“So soon?” she said, her voice on tiptoes.
“I’m afraid so.”
“I’ve never done a layoff before.” The skin around her eyes wrinkled.
“There’s a script in here that will tell you exactly what to say.” I patted the top envelope on the stack marked Accounting. “Look it over. If you have any questions, give me a call.” I managed a weak smile.
God, how I hated this part of my job. Although I had nothing to do with the decision to reduce staff, I felt responsible. My signature graced every letter.
“I assume the list is the same as the one you emailed me?” she said.
“Yes, there were no changes.”
Kim sniffed and pulled a tissue from the pocket of her jacket. She waited a long time before speaking. “I’ve worked with some of those people for more than ten years,” she finally said. “It’s just not fair.”
I leaned back in my chair. My eyes wandered over to a snapshot of Sam and me that I kept on my desk. Taken years earlier, it showed us in bathing suits, laughing, and sharing a beer in a beach bar in Cabo San Lucas. How I wished I were there right now.
I turned my attention back to Kim and tried to resettle the composure that I knew my face had lost. “I wish there was another alternative, but with so many duplicate positions…”
“I know, I know,” Kim said. She raised her eyes heavenward. “Lord, I just hope I can do this.”
“I’m sure you’ll do just fine, Kim. You have an excellent relationship with your staff, and they respect you. That counts for a lot.” My pep talk seemed to work. Kim gave me an appreciative half-smile.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. I couldn’t think of anything more to say.
Kim heaved herself out of her chair and picked up her stack of envelopes. She hovered for a moment before turning to go, then straightened her back and marched out the door.
Each of the other eight managers reacted as Kim had. “So soon?” “So many?” “But he is one of my best employees.”
My response: “I’m so sorry.”
Drained, but also relieved to have finished my last meeting, I sat in the blue gray glow of my computer, scrolling through my daily deluge of emails. My assistant Rita rapped on the open door.
“I’m going to lunch,” she said. “Would you like me to bring you something?” Dear Rita. She knew I often worked through lunch and worried about my health.
“No, thanks. I’ve got some yogurt in the fridge.”
“Okay,” Rita said. “Sam wants you to call him.” She tapped the door jam twice, and left.
I reached for the phone. He answered on the first ring. The sound of his voice was as consoling as my morning coffee.
“So, how did it go?” he asked.
“Worse than I expected,” I said, toying with my cup.
“In what way?”
“It’s one thing to put together packets with people’s names on them, and a whole other thing to learn who they really are. This one is a single parent, that one has a wife who’s three-month’s pregnant. Everyone’s got a story.”
“I’m sure they have,” Sam said. “But you can’t take this personally.”
“I know.” I breathed out a weary sigh. “I wish you didn’t have to leave tomorrow.”
“I wish you were coming with me.”
“Me too,” I said, picturing myself in Geneva strolling down Mont-Blanc Avenue, stopping for a coffee, or nipping in for a Swiss chocolate treat, while Sam attended his conference. On the weekend, we could take a train trip to St. Moritz; maybe go skiing or submerge ourselves in the healing waters of the mineral springs I’d read about.
“Sure would beat stripping employees of their livelihood,” I said.
“There’s still time to change your mind, you know,” Sam said in a buttery baritone meant to persuade me. “It would do you good to get away, reenergize, get a clear perspective.”
“No. No. I couldn’t possibly.”
“I know,” Sam said, as if he’d like me to understand that this wasn’t all he knew. “I’ll see you tonight.”
One of the nice things about our tenured relationship is that Sam and I no longer have to argue everything through. We each know what the other will say.
That doesn’t mean we don’t communicate. One of the reasons I fell for Sam was that he was nothing like my ex-husband, Ricky, who could sit in front of the television for hours without saying a word. Sam always has something to say.
Moments later, I was making half-hearted progress on a turnover report when the phone rang.
“Hey, Liz, it’s Taco Tuesday at the Cantina,” Karen said with a burst of eagerness. “Two dollar margaritas and all the mystery-meat tacos you can eat.”
I smiled for the first time that day. “Sounds delightful,” I said. “But I can’t.”
“Oh come on. Jo’s meeting me, and Gidge is coming by after work. It’ll be fun. A night out with the girls.” The girls. No matter how old we get, we’ll always be “the girls”—Karen, me, JoAnn, Gidge, Rosie and Arlene—six women who have been friends since high school.
“I’d really love to, but I’m meeting Sam for dinner,” I said. “He leaves tomorrow for the International Sales Conference in Switzerland.”
“Oh shoot, I forgot. Well, give him a big smack for me.” Karen had long been a fan of Sam’s, always eager to point out what an overall good guy he was, unlike the parade of disappointing husbands she’d had.
“I will. Tell everyone hi, and don’t wreak too much havoc over there.”
The rain had stopped by the time I left the office, and the air was so fresh and sweet, I started to feel cleansed of doing the company’s dirty work. I hurried across the parking lot as if dismissed from detention, hesitating briefly to admire my Porsche—a gift I had given myself upon my promotion—before clicking the door open. It wasn’t worth feeling bad about today. The important thing was to know I’d done my best. And to remember who I was, a woman with no college education, who began her career as a part-time Personnel Assistant, and now through years of committed hard work, wore the proud mantle of Vice President of Human Resources.
As I drove west from San Ramon toward San Francisco, the lighting on the Bay Bridge cast a golden glow over the water. I’d made this trip often to see Sam, or to go to the airport, and each time I passed through the toll plaza, I thought of my Aunt Vi. A lifelong resident of the city, she loved to tell the story of the day the bridge opened in 1936. “We were all so excited. It was the biggest traffic jam in San Francisco history,” she’d say, waving her cigarette in the air for affect. “Every auto owner tried to crowd his machine on the bridge.” Till the day she died, she referred to a car as a machine. “Be careful in your machine,” she’d warn each time I left her apartment.
Spiedini’s restaurant was located two blocks from Sam’s condo in SoMa, the area South of Market made trendy by the dot-com boom. It had become our “go-to” place, not only for its close proximity, but also for its intimate atmosphere and mouth-watering Northern Italian cuisine. By the time I parked in the underground garage of Sam’s building, I realized I was starving. My breath quickened as I headed up the street in a trot. After almost twenty years, I still looked forward to being with Sam.
I entered through the double glass doors into the marble entry paneled in rust-colored suede. The softly lit bar to my left was a sea of dark browns and black. A group of business people was gathered around two tables near the windows, clutching bottles of designer beer. As I passed by, I heard a man ask, “Did you get pre-IPO stock? What’s the lockup?” I smiled. Every twenty-something in the tech industry dreamed of cashing out with a bundle, enough to travel the world, maybe buy a little vineyard in the Napa Valley. Good luck.
Sam was seated at the far end of the bar, engrossed in conversation with young, sweet-faced Dimitri, the weeknight bartender, probably discussing the latest international soccer scores. Both were compulsive soccer watchers.
I shrugged out of my raincoat, hung it over my arm, and arranged my face in what felt like my most appealing look: a careful, pleasant smile, not too wide, just enough teeth showing.
“How are two of my favorite men,” I said, stepping up behind Sam. Dimitri flashed a welcoming smile and reached for the martini shaker.
“Hello, darling,” Sam said, turning to plant a kiss on my cheek. Even his 5-o’clock shadow couldn’t hide his finely chiseled features. As I hoisted myself up onto the barstool, my skirt hiked up to my thigh. I left it there.
“You’re early,” Sam said, a hint of surprise in his voice. He took my coat, and laid it across the stool next to him.
“I couldn’t wait to get out of there.”
“Ah,” Sam said with a nod.
“But I’ve made my peace with it,” I said, reaching for the bowl of mixed nuts. Sam shot me a look of disbelief.
“I mean it. What’s that poem about God giving you the strength to change what you can and know what you can’t?”
“You mean the Serenity Prayer?”
“Yes. That’s it. I’m making it my new mantra.” I popped a cashew in my mouth in a gesture of finality.
Sam leaned over and caressed my thigh. “Whatever it takes,” he said, reaching for his Heineken.
Dimitri served me a cold shimmering martini in a cool misshapen glass. I knew I hadn’t convinced Sam. He knew that I really meant I couldn’t do the job if I let myself care too much.
As I sipped my drink, I allowed my mind to dwell only on good things: the pleasure of Sam’s company, his voice soft and strong, the relaxing warmth of the alcohol, the promising smells of roasted garlic and simmering marinara sauce. We talked easily, Sam and I, about his upcoming business trip, and my plans to catch up with my children and my friends while he was gone. And in the last pale light of what had been a stressful day, things didn’t seem so bad.
Husbands May Come and Go but Friends Are Forever
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